Icons of the 20th century—the Wright Brothers and the B&O Railroad—were integral to an exceptionally generous gift that is helping Juilliard singers in the 21st century. The gift, a series of grants that will offer broad support to students in the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts, comes from the Dayton, Ohio-based Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.
Brian Zeger, artistic director of the Institute, became acquainted with the foundation through meeting Bill Villafranco, a foundation trustee. Villafranco and fellow foundation trustees Alexander Sanger and
Kevin McDonald were immediately responsive to the urgent need for scholarship funds at Juilliard and agreed that a gift to support singers would be a perfect match for the philanthropic interests of the late Mrs. Toulmin, in whose name the foundation was established.
Virginia B. Toulmin was born in St. Louis and received a nursing degree, but after working as a nurse for a while, her spirit of adventure prompted her to take a job as a nurse-stewardess on the St. Louis-Washington, D.C., line of the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O to passengers—and generations of Monopoly fans) Railroad. While serving on her route, she met and eventually married Harry Toulmin Jr., an international patent attorney and son of the lawyer who defended the Wright brothers’ patent on their “flying machine.” Mrs. Toulmin later recalled that at first Mr. Toulmin hadn’t wanted to be disturbed as he traveled, but then he started chatting and never stopped. “After we were married, he confessed that he had timed his weekly trips to Washington to catch my runs,” she told an interviewer. Mr. Toulmin put his new bride on the board of a pharmaceutical company he’d rescued from bankruptcy—he thought it would be a good fit since she was nurse—and she continued to run it after his death, in 1965. The company thrived under her stewardship and she sold the multimillion dollar business in 1995, devoting herself thereafter to philanthropy. For the rest of her life, she generously supported arts, health, and human services organizations in the United States and around the world.
Although initially they were only interested in creating a scholarship, Villafranco and the other Toulmin trustees came to realize that they could make a much larger impact at Juilliard if they also contributed to the Novick Career Advancement Fund, which provides students with a stipend for living and career-related expenses, such as audition fees, after they graduate from Juilliard. Finally, as a reflection of Virginia Toulmin’s belief in the power of unrestricted gifts, the Toulmin trustees opted to allocate a portion of their grant toward general support for the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts, which will further enhance Juilliard’s ability to attract and retain top faculty and make more performance opportunities available to its students.
“This extraordinary gift comes at a particularly significant time for Juilliard,” Zeger told The Journal. “Students with the potential to study at Juilliard are increasingly forced to choose between the best choice for their education and their financial concerns. This lets us enable truly top-notch young singers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford tuition to further their artistic education.”
For soprano Raquel Gonzáles (B.M. ’12, voice), a first-year master’s student who hails from Lawrence, Kan., and one of the inaugural Toulmin Scholars, the equation is quite straightforward. “My continuing time at Juilliard would simply not be possible without the incredible generosity of the foundation,” she told The Journal. “It’s inspiring to be so fully supported at such a critical point in my career, and I’m so grateful that this scholarship is letting me continue my training with the faculty from whom I still have so much to learn.”